ARISTES - Construction of a $3.8 million district forestry office that's three times larger than the current office is more than halfway complete.

Commissioned by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the new location along Route 42 on Big Mountain between Aristes and the Roaring Creek trailhead at Kline Reservoir is the geographic center of a seven-county district covering the 30,000-acre Weiser State Forest.

It will replace the district office building near Cressona, where space is now at a premium, said Mark Deibler, district forester. He noted a conference room was lost to office space and business areas lost to storage.

"We're like a bunch of sardines now," he said during an interview Jan. 16 at the construction site.

The existing office is 2,755 square feet and the maintenance garage 3,200 square feet. The district's 38 employees will move early this summer into the new 10,000-

square-foot office, which will be dubbed an Environmental Resource Management Center. It will be accompanied by a 5,000-square-foot garage.

Both buildings are environmentally friendly and LEED certified, Deibler said.

A lobby and multi-purpose room in the office will be offered as public spaces for DCNR programs, training, presentations and meetings. Further into the office are labs and work spaces for foresters, entomologists and other staff.

The district office, a part of DCNR's Bureau of Forestry, is tasked with managing plant life and wildlife in the forest, timber management, wildfire suppression support and a private lands program, where advice is given to municipalities or private landowners on their own parks and trees.

A parking lot for the building will allow hikers and bikers easier access to different portions of the trails that run through the Roaring Creek tract.

Site preparation for the project began in late June 2012. Construction is expected to end in early June, and Deibler said the office should be up and running in early July.

The site is near a strip mine. "That was an issue in the beginning, how stable the site was. Most of the strip-mined area is kind of like a brownfield, so we're utilizing a site that's already been impacted," he said.

Lobar Construction Services, Dillsburg, is the general contractor on the project. The designs were completed in house by DCNR. Staff members were recognized last year by the department for designing the project at a cost savings.